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Sheriff on West Seattle eviction: I made the decision to go in and enforce the law

King County Sheriff John Urquhart says he decided it was time to enforce the law in the eviction of a West Seattle couple. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The stalemate in the eviction of a couple in West Seattle has come to an end as the King County Sheriff finally came to the decision it was time to enforce the law.

“This morning, we went out there about 8 o’clock in the morning with sheriff’s detectives and served a search warrant to go in and arrest them for criminal trespass. It’s against the law. They can’t be in that house because they don’t own it anymore and haven’t owned it for a month or two,” King County Sheriff John Urquhart tells KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

Byron and Jean Barton drew widespread attention after they were evicted from their West Seattle home July 18. Protesters attempted to stop the eviction, and the sheriff said later that same day, the family managed to get back into the house where they’ve been since trespassing illegally.

There was no action taken against the couple after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray asked Seattle police to stand by while things were worked out in the courts.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant also spoke out on behalf of the family, saying, “It’s absolutely important for public servants, elected officials to stand with ordinary working families who are paying their dues.”

The family’s situation drew a good deal of sympathy as Byron Barton was a disabled Vietnam war Navy vet unable to work since suffering a heart attack and stroke several years ago. Barton reportedly spent the vast majority of his days in a wheelchair or hospital bed in the home.

“Circumstances changed with them and they weren’t able to make their payments, and I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the Bartons at least from that standpoint,” says Urquhart.

But after weeks of what he called dithering around and finger-pointing between the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office, he says it became clear to him that they shouldn’t delay anymore.

“Neither of us were willing to enforce the law,” says Urquhart. “I finally came to the revelation last week, when I was on vacation, strangely enough, that this can’t continue. This is ridiculous. Both of us are letting politics run roughshod over the rule of law, so I made the decision that we’re going to go in and we’re going to enforce the law.”

In this situation, Urquhart says this followup on the eviction would typically fall to the Seattle Police Department.

“Under the state law, we do evictions everywhere in King County, including every single city, but if they go back and break the law after the eviction, by custom and by procedure, that is the responsibility of the local police agency. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in Seattle, or Bellevue, or Kent, or whatever.”

Urquhart says he can’t speak for why the Seattle Police Department didn’t make a move, but he thought it was time.

“This is simply a question of me enforcing the law because I could and it was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do certainly for the owners of the property.”

Monson questioned why other public officials involved so easily let enforcement of the law go undone.

“I went back and I looked at the oath of office for Seattle City Council members. I’m sure it’s similar to the one you took as sheriff. You vow to uphold the laws of Seattle, of King County, the constitution of the state of Washington, and the constitution of the United States. Isn’t that what is of utmost importance for public officials to uphold the law and to uphold our constitutions?” Monson asked.

Urquhart would not comment on the actions of other city officials, but only for himself.

“I’m only responsible for what I do. I take my oaths seriously,” says Urquhart. “I think the sheriff’s office made some mistakes here. We should not have let this go on as long as it did. We made it right today as far as I’m concerned.”

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